Airdate: November 23, 1997
Synopsis: Lisa organizes a school trip to try to dig up fossils at an excavation site before its turned into a mini-mall. At said site, a human skeleton with wings is found. The people of Springfield are convinced that it is an angel. Homer decides to take it and charge people to see the angel, turning the house into a tourist trap overnight. However, Lisa is skeptical about the whole thing and has a scientist perform an analysis… which comes up inconclusive. In response, a mob forms to try and destroy “scientific” artifacts. Lisa goes to destroy the artifact, only to find out it is gone. She is promptly placed on trial for destruction of the skeleton. However, during the trial, the skeleton appears outside the courtroom, with a message about “the end” coming “at sundown”.
Review: First, let’s do a brief review to get the basics out of the way. It’s not going to rank amongst the greats. Characterization is slightly off (Homer and Marge come off as more irrational and jerkass-esque) and inconsistent (Bart first questions the “motorboat prize”, then asks where the “motorboat” is), the plot jumps around a bit, the humor is a tad bit weaker than what you would get from, say, season 8, and the episode makes no bones about its bias.
Now for the positives. The animation is pretty good, the conflict between scepticism and belief has the potential to make for a decent episode (with the elements of the Scopes Trial integrated in a decent, if unsubtle, manner), and the twist at the end is pretty good, a rarity for the Scully era. I especially like something else at the end; as much as Lisa presented herself as a sceptic, she might have believed that the skeleton was divine at least once or twice. That’s pretty good consolation for those who think that the episode is too biased, albeit just that; mere lip service.
Also worth noting is the overwhelming theme of “marketing” that overhangs through the episode. Pretty darn good on the writers to satirize that with some level of subtlety. It does bring up a decent topic; does marketing cruelly manipulate personal beliefs? Also, while the humor is weak, there are some pretty good jokes in this episode (a good chunk of them are sight gags, such as the “Christian Science reading centre” being torched).
This episode, however, would better benefit with a compare/contrast; two from the Golden age, and one from the Modern era.
First, let’s look at “Bart’s Comet”. The end is very similar: people begin anticipating the end of Springfield; in this case, it’s a comet. There is a lone voice of scepticism over the perceived plot device; in this case, it’s a snarky remark from Homer. However, there was a lot more subtlety in that episode’s presentation of religion and/or fervour, and the “discovery” and “twist” are uncovered by the most unlikely sources (Bart and Homer, respectively). This episode is not as subtle, and said discovery and twist come from Lisa. That’s a bit too predictable.
Second, we should look back way earlier to “Itchy and Scratchy vs. Marge”. In this case, it’s morality that’s at the centre of the controversy instead of skepticism. In this case, both sides are given a nearly equal amount of ammunition, and both sides get attacked on a nearly equal level. While there is an end message in that episode, the viewer is left to debate it. This episode picks sides (with skepticism), and barring an occasional line, sticks with it. There is little room for debate with this episode.
However, this episode does have a leg-up on season 18’s “The Monkey Suit”. Not only does it repeat the topics brought up in episodes such as this one, but “Monkey Suit” is unsubtle (the end message is explicitly spelled out for us), nonsensical (especially with Lisa disproving religion), biased to the umpteenth degree (not saying that this episode is unbiased, but it’s somewhat more even-handed) and not really funny. It seems to be a trend for Modern Simpsons episodes; take a theme presented in a classic episode, remove all the subtlety and a sizable chunk of the humor, add in some pointless guest star to either get a line in or be praised endlessly by the town, and when it comes to characterization… sheesh, don’t get me started!
Overall, this episode is a decent time-waster, but nothing that will stand atop season 9.
Favourite Moment: The town’s reaction to Lisa’s appearance on Smartline? Wreck everything related to science… even if it’s only connection to science is in its name. This is how nihilistic the show is; the townspeople will do anything because they are idiots.
Least Favourite Moment: The intro with the sting operation. Season 9 began the tradition of intros that barely had any connection to the episode (if there was any connection at all). This is a prime example of this trend.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2. At the beginning of the episode, Homer says that the rest of the Simpsons are “the most paranoid family I’ve ever been affiliated with.” That’s the first sign that characterization would become more alien.
Zaniness Factor: 1.25 While not too zany, the twist at the end with the skeleton is a bit “out there”.